Our dreams are a second life. I have never been able to penetrate without a shudder those ivory or horned gates which separate us from the invisible world. The first moments of sleep are an image of death; a hazy torpor grips our thoughts and it becomes impossible for us to determine the exact instant when the "I," under another form, continues the task of existence. Little by little a vague underground cavern grows lighter... The spirit world opens before us.
-- Aurélia, Gérard de Nerval
Gilles Deleuze, in particular, had his own early but explicit connections with the occult tradition, and this influence, although suppressed by himself and his followers, can be traced throughout the entire trajectory of his work. In an article entitled “The Sonambulist and the Hermaphrodite: Deleuze and Johann de Montereggio and Occultism,” Christian Kerslake tracks down the beginning of this esoteric career. Kerslake’s essay begins:
One of Gilles Deleuze's first articles, published in 1946, was an introduction to a new French edition of an arcane work of philosophy bearing the title Mathesis: or Studies on the Anarchy and Hierarchy of Knowledge, by one Dr Johann Malfatti de Montereggio. Deleuze was twenty-one when he published his introduction to the French edition of Malfatti's Mathesis, which was the first new edition for a hundred years. "Mathesis, Science and Philosophy" is one of a group of five texts he published in the period 1945-7, and which he subsequently repudiated and omitted from French bibliographies of his work.
And the heavily occult nature of Malfatti’s book is absolutely evident:
In Anarchy and Hierarchy it is as if [German Romantic philosopher] Schelling's final theosophy comes to completion in a hallucinatory Tantrism, in which the living body of God, in its most complete self-development, itself appears in hermaphroditic form in human sexuality, where the coming-to-divine-consciousness becomes identical to the psychosexual attainment, along Tantric lines, of spiritual "bisexuality". This "system", uncovered by Malfatti, is said to form the basis for all subsequent Eastern and Western esoteric thought, and now furnishes us with the long-lost key to the ultimate system of medicine.
Not only, according to Joshua Ramey in The Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy and Spiritual Ordeal, did Deleuze write about the occult. He also attended a salon at the residence of Marie-Madeleine Davy, “a scholar of medieval philosophy and passionate spiritist,” in Paris where esoteric ideas, among other radical subjects, were discussed by certain of the glittering lights of French philosophy.
The salons were the site of encounters between many leading French intellectuals, such as Sartre and Bataille, as well as a very young Gilles Deleuze.
The company also included a number of French esotericists and devotees of occult philosophy, such as Marcel Moré. Deleuze's work from this period reflects a profound fascination with esoteric themes, inspired perhaps by Davy's own conviction that a secret and subversive medieval tradition of Neoplatonic thought contained a revolutionary gnosis waiting to be rediscovered and redeployed in Europe.
Scrambling and Rambling
Kerslake argues, in his later Deleuze and the Unconscious, that well before such topics were quite openly explored by D&G in the “Becoming Animal...” chapter/plateau (which Kerslake aptly calls “a late modern occult treatise”), they were present in Deleuze’s Bergsonism. Kerslake quotes from near the close of this text, which I’ll further condense here:
It could be said that in man, and only in man, the actual becomes adequate to the visual. It could be said that man is capable of rediscovering all the levels, all the degrees of expansion (détente) and contraction that coexist in the virtual Whole... Even in his dreams he rediscovers or prepares matter. And durations that are inferior to him are still internal to him... man is capable of scrambling the planes, of going beyond his own plane as his own condition, in order finally to express naturing Nature.
This power to retreat into the virtual and to "scramble the planes" is potentially active in all humans by apparent virtue of their being human, but in practice it is only available to the sorcerer-shaman, to the artist-poet, to the master dreamer. In short, it is available to those who have passed beyond the first gate.
Here the powers to transform, to become other, to dissolve or shatter the one into the many, to vary the speeds of existence, to travel instantly in time and space, to expand and shrink the boundaries of the self, to superimpose one place and moment upon others, are all at hand.
The Master of Animals is there to freely present them to anyone who possesses the key and who knows the proper rites and intonations. The mystic, or more accurately the sorcerer who is unbound to theology and priestly tradition, is a singularity, a cosmic anarchist:
He or she is an unnatural figure, who no longer conforms to the established laws of nature (that is, the laws of established nature). (Deleuze and the Unconscious)
The controller of dreams, the artist/magician who comes to realize that the portals to the astral extension are present everywhere, who discovers that in fact there is no separation between the astral and the physical for one who holds the silver key, soon realizes that the “laws” of nature do not apply.
The planes can be scrambled, the bounds of the law can be endlessly stretched, forms can be altered, the only imagined can be manifested in the light of day. Terence McKenna made this exact realization in the confused and confusing wake of the experiment at La Chorrera:
I have come to believe that under certain conditions the manipulative power of consciousness moves beyond the body and into the world. The world then obeys the will of consciousness to the degree that the inertia of pre-existing physical laws can be overcome. This inertia is overcome by consciousness determining the outcome of the normally random, micro-physical events. Over time the deflection of micro-events from randomness is cumulative so that eventually the effects of such deflections is to shift the course of events in larger physical systems as well. Apparently, when wanting wishes to come true, patience is everything. (True Hallucinations)
He goes on to explain that just as consciousness (in a way still unknown to science) is able “to direct the electrical flow in the central nervous system” of our bodies, given greater awareness it appears that electrons and atoms beyond our mere physical boundaries can likewise be manipulated.
Within shamanic states of consciousness, in other words, our personal boundaries -- the area within our willed control -- can be enlarged, can encompass more and more of the “outside” environment. And for McKenna, as in many shamanic and mystical traditions, the means by which consciousness can expand in this manner is through language.
The sorcerer is revealed here as the original and ultimate poet. The influence of Lovecraft on McKenna is obvious here, as Terence readily admitted and Dennis concurred by affirming that the McKennas’ Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss, also the name of Dennis’ autobiographical record of life with his brother, was taken directly from Lovecraft.
As in a Lovecraft story, the shaman-sorcerer descends to a space where words fail, where the senses themselves must open and widen in order to comprehend anything at all. In these spaces or states, the sorcerer must discover the words to convey his or her experiences to the community, in song or in writing or in other creative work, or risk insular madness or even physical death.
The sorcerer, as Kerslake reading Deleuze points out, is “the only successful madman.” And there are many, mostly unknown or forgotten or exiled, would-be sorcerers who have not succeeded. The gate is easier to enter than it is to exit. Laws can be stretched but often they do not contract to their usual and comfortable limits.
Lovecraft’s horror stories are often about those who fail to navigate the vast realm between the gates. And there are many fates worse than physical death. Where many fail -- and especially many moderns fail -- is in taking things too literally.
The Dissolving Borders of Self and Time
Hans Peter Duerr explains, in Dreamtime, that whatever the shaman experiences it is a mistake to say that he or she objectively becomes an animal. Instead, it is more accurate to suggest that the dichotomies of objectivity and subjectivity, outer and inner, break down at this point.
What actually takes place is not that the shaman turns into an animal, but rather that he has now experienced his "wild", his "animal aspect". Not until that happens will he be a true shaman. For he cannot know his human side until he also becomes aware of what it is not. To put it differently, he needs to become estranged from it, to have seen it, that is, to have seen it from the outside. After experiencing that, he is no longer what he once was. In pictorial representations, he now appears as a human bird or a human with bird's legs.
The successful animal-becoming, therefore, is a human-becoming. The werewolves and the vampires are those who do not return, the damned. A similar thing happens with the related phenomenon of magical flight. It would not be possible to say that the sorcerer or the witch flies like a bird, at least as we perceive bird-flight with our modern everyday consciousness, but a type of flight does occur.
It not so much that we fly. What happens instead is that our ordinary "ego boundaries" evaporate and so it is entirely possible that we suddenly encounter ourselves at places where our "everyday body", whose boundaries are no longer identical with our person, is not to be found.
The ego-defined boundaries of the self, which are identical to those boundaries defined by our civilized culture, are at least temporarily erased. The individual psyche and the collective psyche, known in the past as the World Soul, temporarily become once again undivided.
And this extension of the Earth, this astral plane, this psychic realm between the material and the spiritual, between the gates, is precisely the World Soul. The sudden erasure of boundaries can be experienced -- can be known -- as magical flight, as animal becoming, as telepathy or telekinesis, as sexual and mystic ecstasy.
...a brujo need not be able to fly like a bird in order to arrive at a different place within seconds, for it seems that a sorcerer can change the boundaries of his person so much that he can be simultaneously within his everyday body and also at another place, where his body is not. Something like that may indeed be happening during divination and telepathy, for the people involved do not seem to overcome distances the way electromagnetic waves do. It does not appear to be a transmission as assumed by most parapsychologists. We are apparently dealing more with a "lifting of boundaries", in which there is a dissolution of barriers developed during the processes of civilization and individuation.
Yet it is not only the boundaries of the self that lift. Throughout history and in many lands, those individuals and groups who have passed beyond the first gate have entered into the timeless. Or, in other words, beyond this point time is no longer experienced as mere duration, measured by clocks or the sun, but is identified with eternity.
Across the world this breach into eternity has been celebrated with processions and parades, with mad dance, with the shattering of taboos, with the overturning of authority and the inversion of social roles, with the expenditure and destruction of property, with inebriation, with unbridled festivity, and with a riot of the senses.
And, very understandably, it is the marginalized, the oppressed, the outcasts and freeks who were mostly likely to jump into the fray, to stomp most wildly in the thick of the hairy ruckus.
It is easy to see how these "good witches", and also the werewolves or the wild women of the Nomkubulwana, are related to those "great throngs of women" who raged through the quiet of the night, the Couroi of Crete, who danced over the meadows in the retinue of the Great Goddess, the enraptured skin-clad maenads of the "Great Transformer", the nocturnal hordes of the spirits of the dead of Artemis-Hecate, and the mad "Bechler" women of the Slovenian Gail valley.
Witches, werewolves, maenads, spirits of the dead, the mad. With these as the denizens of the midnight romps -- as in the cult of Cthulhu itself -- it is easy to see how the existing authorities in the ancient and medieval periods, and in “respectable” society in general, would attempt to suppress or at least contain and rechannel these outbursts of truly subversive energy. Festivals were therefore (mostly) permitted as useful releases of steam, as acceptable (though temporary) penetrations of the eternal.
No matter how great the differences between these groups of people, they were all united by the common theme that "outside of time" they lost their normal everyday aspect and became beings of the "outer" reality, of the beyond, whether they turned into animals or hybrid creatures or whether they reversed their social roles. They might roam bodily through the land or only "in spirit", in ecstasy, with or without hallucinogenic drugs.
Mystery is for the Immature
With the onset of modernity, however, as more and more aspects of life became colonized by the state and its micromanagement of the everyday, the boundaries between time and eternity, between the real and the imaginal, between the civilized and the wild, became thickened and more rigid. The gates became harder and harder to find, and when they were found and passed through there were fewer and fewer guides to point the way home.
With the wilderness being increasingly cleared, with the territory being mapped and over-mapped, with the monitoring and coding and stratification of everything, what was once “outside” retreated to the “inside.” Communal ecstasies and potlatches became something inward and alienated, branded as sickness, antisocial. Psychiatrists became the police of the psyche.
Unfortunately, it happens many times that psychiatrists of this sort are people who equate the boundaries drawn by modern civilization between itself and the wilderness with a dividing line between reality and illusion. As far as they are concerned, the reaches beyond that border are mere "projections", and the dissolution of the boundary indicates mental illness.
The boundaries of the consensus, of the narrow spectrum of thought accepted by civilization, are identical to the boundaries of the real. Everything outside of these bounds/binds is nonsense, insanity, unhealthy, impure. Yet for those still blessed or cursed by dreams and visions of landscapes and beings beyond the borders, nothing within them will ever wholly satisfy.
Randolph Carter -- and likely Lovecraft, too, despite his materialist claims -- was one of these few, and in The Silver Key his melancholic disgust of the consensus is explained:
They had chained him down to things that are, and had then explained the workings of those things till mystery had gone out of the world. When he complained, and longed to escape into twilight realms where magic moulded all the little vivid fragments and prized associations of his mind into vistas of breathless expectancy and unquenchable delight, they turned him instead toward the new-found prodigies of science, bidding him find wonder in the atom’s vortex and mystery in the sky’s dimensions. And when he had failed to find these boons in things whose laws are known and measurable, they told him he lacked imagination, and was immature because he preferred dream-illusions to the illusions of our physical creation.
The illusions of the physical are the only accepted illusions. Fantasy can be explored in art, but only if this art is self-conscious of its separation from the real and confines itself within the authorized mores and tastes of society. All else is dismissed as romantic, foolish and/or destructive escapism. Even children, increasingly, are denied to right to imagine.
The eternal may have burst through in the past, or perhaps will do so in the far distant future (but, the consensus bleats on, such an event is very improbable as “natural laws” would be violated), but it will not arrive today. The laws have been fixed. The gates are closed and the keys have been lost.
No Place In Waking Life
All this indicates, even in the case of normally perceptive scholars like Mircea Eliade, a total misunderstanding of where and when this “dreamtime” is situated. As Duerr explains (quoting Eliade and anthroplogists and psychoanalysts who hold a similar misconception):
The concept of "dreamtime" does not refer to any time in the distant past to which the Australians supposedly think they can be "called up", "repeated" or "emulated", which "endures" or proceeds "parallel" to ordinary time, or which could be "projected" upon the present. The "dreamtime" is not past, present or future time: it has no "location" whatever on the continuum of time.
It, the extension, the astral, the dreamtime, the realm of becoming, the World Soul, does not fall within time. It is both fully absent and, potentially, fully present. It is both underworld and off-world, in the unconscious and in super-consciousness. It “occupies” the space between the rigid categories and typologies of our defined and preassigned reality.
Kenneth Grant, in The Magical Revival, explains that this is also the space of Lovecraft’s writing:
H.P. Lovecraft, in one of his tales of terror, alludes to certain entities which have their being "not in the spaces known to us, but between them. They walk calm and primal, of no dimensions, and to us unseen."
This was also the space that the McKenna brothers, by turning their organic keys, blasted their way into in March of 1971. And in very similar language to that used to describe what Carter beheld after stepping through the first gate (“It is full of those paradoxes, contradictions, and anomalies which have no place in waking life..”), Terence struggles to make sense of what they had witnessed:
Our collective intelligence was not compromised, but what was compromised was the ability of reason to give a coherent account of what was going on, as paradox, coincidence, and general synchronistic strangeness began to increase exponentially. Into the vacuum left by the collapse of reason rushed a staggering array of exotic intuitions about why things were as they were.
Terence McKenna’s thought gets unfortunately pegged to his prediction of the singularity or concrescence that would occur on December 21st of 2012. When this event failed to happen in an obvious and spectacular way (although I think the jury is still out on whether something did begin to ripple into manifestation at that time) his wider perspective has been largely neglected.
The origins of 2012, though, were at La Chorrera. 2012, in a very real sense, already took place then and there, and the date essentially has become a symbol -- much like the Incarnation of Christ -- of a singular event that could potentially happen at any “point” within or between the space-time continuum.
Werewolves Become Vampires When They Die
And there is the feeling, reading these authors, that the space of the extension is really coterminous with the world itself. Borrowing the terms of A Thousand Plateaus, the becomings that characterize the entire plane of consistency also move between the strata of the fixed and ordered. The plane of consistency -- as well as all of the synonyms that D&G suggest for it, including the Mechanosphere -- is yet another expression for the World Soul.
Furthermore, if we consider the plane of consistency we note that the most disparate of things and signs move upon it: a semiotic fragment rubs shoulders with a chemical interaction, an electron crashes into a language, a black hole captures a genetic message, a crystallization produces a passion, the wasp and the orchid cross a letter...
The plane of consistency knows nothing of differences in level, orders of magnitude, or distances. It knows nothing of the difference between the artificial and the natural. It knows nothing of the distinction between contents and expressions, or that between forms and formed substances; these things exist only by means of and in relation to the strata.
All of this at once reflects and is reflected by the various becomings participated in by the sorcerer roaming in the wild:
Thus packs, or multiplicities, continually transform themselves into each other, cross over into each other. Werewolves become vampires when they die. This is not surprising, since becoming and multiplicity are the same thing... the Wolf-Man's pack of wolves also becomes a swarm of bees, and a field of anuses, and a collection of small holes and tiny ulcerations (the theme of contagion): all these heterogeneous elements compose "the" multiplicity of symbiosis and becoming.
The world of the sorcerer, then, is precisely the physical world apprehended through a wider range of perception, perception that has not been blocked or limited by the various strata. The world is not wholly transformed beyond the first gate, but our sense of it is entirely changed. A new, in-between, realm opens up, one that has always been there but has been little noticed. Henri Corbin, the French Islamic scholar, locates this same understanding within esoteric Islam:
We observe immediately that we are no longer reduced to the dilemma of thought and extension, to the schema of a cosmology and a gnoseology limited to the empirical world and the world of abstract understanding. Between the two is placed an intermediate world, which our authors designate as ‘alam al-mithal, the world of the Image, mundus imaginalis: a world as ontologically real as the world of the senses and the world of the intellect, a world that requires a faculty of perception belonging to it, a faculty that is a cognitive function, a noetic value, as fully real as the faculties of sensory perception or intellectual intuition.
This faculty is the imaginative power, the one we must avoid confusing with the imagination that modern man identifies with “fantasy” and that, according to him, produces only the “imaginary.” Here we are, then, simultaneously at the heart of our research and of our problem of terminology.
Yet another synonym is introduced, then, with Corbin: the mundus imaginalis. This, being a “realm” between the empirical and the abstract or spiritual, exactly describes the World Soul and Corbin explicitly makes this identity. Corbin also provides the key to enter this threshold realm: the imagination or the “imaginal.” And with this we are right back at the start. “To think is always to follow the witch’s flight,” as Deleuze put it in What is Philosophy?
Playing the Games of Satan
But words of caution are required. The astral or psychic realm that we’ve entered into past the first gate is not the highest realm of the spirit. Instead, it is a confusing place, a wonderful but often terrifying place, a place full of angels and devils and all sorts of elementals, nymphs, sprites and kobolds. It is very easy to get lost here forever.
The Traditionalist, René Guénon, who like Corbin became enamoured by esoteric Islam, writes of the fatal confusion between the psychic and the spiritual in his masterwork, The Reign of Quantity and the Sign of the Times:
This confusion moreover appears in two contrary forms: in the first, the spiritual is brought down to the level of the psychic, and this is what happens more particularly in the kind of psychological explanations already referred to; in the second, the psychic is on the other hand mistaken for the spiritual; of this the most popular example is spiritualism, but the other more complex forms of “neo-spiritualism” all proceed from the very same error.
And this error is especially evident within shamanism, especially modern interpretations of “shamanism,” and its power-obsessed shadow, sorcery.
The magical part of "shamanism" doubtless has a vitality of quite a different order, and that is why it is something really to be feared in more than one respect; for the practically constant contact with inferior psychic forces is as dangerous as could be, first for the "shaman" himself, as is to be expected, but also from another point of view of a much less narrowly "localized" interest.
Guénon approaches this with the utmost seriousness and warns, almost curses, those who would lead others down this false path:
It is all too easy to see the gravity of the consequences of any such state of affairs: anyone who propagates this confusion, whether intentionally or otherwise and especially under present conditions, is setting beings on the road to getting irremediably lost in the chaos of the "intermediary world", and thereby, though often unconsciously, playing the game of the "satanic" forces that rule over what has been called the "counter-initiation".
The warning is stark and sobering. Nearly all of the figures mentioned in these essays -- Lovecraft, McKenna, Deleuze and Guattari, Grant, Duerr, etc. -- could be accused of propagating confusion according to Guénon’s strict assessment.
All of the above are explorers of the “intermediary world" and several, Grant certainly and possibly Deleuze and Lovecraft, are associated with occult orders such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, etc.
These orders -- groups incidentally that Guénon was also once an initiate of -- would be accused by Guénon and other Traditionalists as being instruments of the “pseudo-initiation” or even the more openly subversive “counter-initiation.” So how would the authors above defend themselves against this damning criticism? Are they really Satanists?
In the case of Deleuze and Guattari, -- despite their fervent talk of the demonic, of animal-becomings, of unnatural participations and nuptials, and of scrambling the planes and flying with the witches -- their own warning echoes throughout A Thousand Plateaus. It is perhaps most clearly expressed in the final plateau:
Every undertaking of destratification (for example, going beyond the organism, plunging into a becoming) must therefore observe concrete rules of extreme caution: a too-sudden destratification may be suicidal, or turn cancerous. In other words, it will sometimes end in chaos, the void and destruction, and sometimes lock us back into the strata, which become more rigid still, losing their degrees of diversity, differentiation, and mobility.
All of this is playing with fire, dancing with chaos. And the other authors above all have their own warnings and cautions. But do these excuse them from Guénon’s curse? Maybe not. Maybe they are all agents of the counter-initiation and/or its more prosaic sub-organizations. This has certainly been suggested widely of Terence McKenna in quite recent years.
But, beyond the first gate, which our whole culture may be stepping through, who does not escape suspicion? We are all transforming, churning, splitting, melding, becoming. The Traditionists vs. the Perennialists vs. the Neo-Traditionalists. Guénon in the 1940s cautioned that there were no authentic and traditional orders of initiation remaining in the West. Could this also be true of the East today? And how would we know one way or the other?
The Traditionalists of the present may be as confused, as implicated, as anyone else. Maybe they are also playing into an agenda that would prevent any rigorous exploration, any unsanctioned expression, of the imagination at all? Or is this my own satanic confusion and paranoia? The mundus imaginalis encompasses all of this.
To the Immediate
But there still is hope of escape that does not lead back to the merely material. The second gate! None of these authors stay anchored in the astral. ‘Umr at-Tawil, the Master of Animals, leads us forward through the shifting confusion and onward towards the ultimate gate beyond which “all dimensions dissolve in the absolute.” We still hold the silver key. Hyper-carbolation marches forth.
“I am indeed that Most Ancient One,” said the Guide, “of whom you know. We have awaited you—the Ancient Ones and I. You are welcome, even though long delayed. You have the Key, and have unlocked the First Gate. Now the Ultimate Gate is ready for your trial. If you fear, you need not advance. You may still go back unharmed the way you came. But if you choose to advance...”